Pubdate: Sat, 20 Aug 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Richard C. Paddock


MANILA - Even amid the slaughter of President Rodrigo Duterte's war 
on drugs, the killings of Renato and Jaypee Bertes stand out.

The Bertes men, father and son, shared a tiny, concrete room with six 
other people in a metropolitan Manila slum, working odd jobs when 
they could find them. Both smoked shabu, a cheap form of 
methamphetamine that has become a scourge in the Philippines. 
Sometimes Jaypee Bertes sold it in small amounts, relatives said.

So it was unsurprising when the police raided their room last month.

They were arrested and taken to a police station where, investigators 
say, they were severely beaten, then shot to death.

The police said the two had tried to escape by seizing an officer's 
gun. But a forensic examination found that the men had been 
incapacitated by the beatings before they were shot; Jaypee Bertes 
had a broken right arm.

"There is no justification at all," said Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, a 
member of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent 
government body that investigated the case. "How can you shoot 
someone who is already in your custody?"

The two men are among more than 800 people who have been killed by 
police officers and vigilantes since the May election of Mr. Duterte, 
who has repeatedly called for killing drug dealers and users. Most 
have been killed by police officers, in encounters the police 
characterize as confrontations or self-defense. More than 200 have 
been attributed to vigilantes, who often leave cardboard signs 
declaring their victims to be drug pushers.

The Bertes case is one of the rare killings to prompt legal action. 
Two of the officers involved have been suspended, and the police said 
they would be charged with murder.

Mr. Duterte has not commented on the case, which has been widely 
reported in the local news media. In a speech on Wednesday, he said 
that the police should not use excessive force, but he showed no sign 
of backing down from his call to kill drug suspects.

"The fight against drugs will continue unrelenting until we have 
destroyed the apparatus operating in the entire country," he said.

Senator Leila de Lima, the former Philippine secretary of justice, 
called the killing a "summary execution" and said the evidence was so 
clear-cut that the authorities had "no choice" but to bring charges.

The case is one of several expected to be the focus of potentially 
explosive hearings next week before the Senate Committee on Justice 
and Human Rights, which Ms. de Lima oversees.

Mr. Duterte lashed out at Ms. de Lima in his speech on Wednesday, 
accusing her, without providing evidence, of having an affair with 
her married driver, who he said collected drug payoffs for her.

Ms. de Lima called the accusation "foul" and added, "If this is his 
way of stopping the Senate's investigation on the extrajudicial 
killings, he can try," but she insisted that she would not call off 
the hearings.

Although the killings have dispensed with what Mr. Duterte has called 
"the rigmarole" of due process, his drug war has proved wildly 
popular in a country plagued by crime.

The blunt-spoken Mr. Duterte made his name as the mayor of Davao 
City, where vigilante killings starting in the 1980s are credited 
with helping reduce crime and making it one of the country's safest places.

Since Mr. Duterte has taken his campaign nationwide, more than 
600,000 drug dealers and users have turned themselves in to avoid 
being killed, the authorities say. The result, they say, has been a 
visible reduction in drug use and petty crime.

Renato Bertes, 49, and Jaypee Bertes, 28, lived with their families 
in a dark warren of alleyways in Pasay City, a part of greater Manila 
near Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The eight of them shared a 
small room and a kitchen area with buckets in place of a sink.

According to the police, the officers chanced upon the Bertes men, 
out in the neighborhood gambling, on the evening of July 6. They 
arrested them, found small amounts of shabu in their possession and 
took them to the police station.

The police declined to discuss the case or release their 
investigative report, but that document was summarized in a report by 
the Commission on Human Rights, a copy of which was provided to The 
New York Times.

According to the commission report, members of the Bertes family and 
a neighbor told a different story. They said that the police "barged 
into" their apartment at 11:30 while they were in bed. The officers 
demanded to know where Jaypee Bertes was keeping drugs and began 
roughing him up.

This was not the family's first run-in with the police. Ms. 
Pimentel-Gana said that according to family members, the police had 
extracted payments of hundreds of dollars from Jaypee twice before.

One officer picked up Jaypee's 2-year-old daughter, Angel, and 
strip-searched her, according to Harra Kazuo, 26, the girl's mother 
and Jaypee's wife.

"Harra begged them to stop and not to kill her husband in front of 
her," the commission report said. "She then ran outside with her daughter."

Renato Bertes tried to intervene and told the police his son would 
surrender, the report said. The officers arrested the men and took 
them to the police station, in Pasay City.

According to the summary of the police report, once inside a jail 
cell, Renato Bertes tried to grab an officer's gun. The officer 
"managed to hold onto his firearm and fired successive shots at 
Renato," the report said.

At that point, Jaypee Bertes grabbed the gun, the report said, but 
before he could fire, the second officer "came to his rescue and shot Jaypee."

The commission report, however, said it was "not possible" for either 
suspect to attack the officers or to try to take their weapons. Both 
men had been tortured, the report said.

A forensic examination concluded that they had been repeatedly struck 
with a blunt object before their deaths.

"With Jaypee's broken arm and both he and his father Renato's badly 
bruised bodies, the victims can no longer be threats to the life and 
security" of the officers, the report said.

Each suspect was shot at least three times, and other shots struck 
the walls of the police station. One shot hit Renato Bertes in the 
top of the head, suggesting that his head was bowed at the time, Ms. 
Pimentel-Gana said.

"What they did was plain wrong," Ms. Kazuo said in an interview. 
"There are laws in the country that they need to follow, especially 
since they are policemen. You cannot just kill anyone."

She acknowledged that her husband and his father were involved with 
drugs but said that did not mean they deserved to die. They were not 
big-time pushers, she said, or part of a syndicate.

"Some people are just pushed to extremes to survive," she said.

Ms. Pimentel-Gana said it was common in such shootings for the police 
to claim that the victim tried to grab an officer's weapon.

Last week, an official in Pasay City was shot and killed by the 
police, who said he tried to grab an officer's gun while handcuffed, 
according to the local news media. The official had gone to the 
authorities in an effort to clear his name of drug charges, family 
members said.

Although the two officers accused in the Bertes killings have been 
suspended from duty, family members say the officers still frequent 
the neighborhood and remain armed.

In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Duterte said his government was 
willing to submit to an investigation of the killings and that he 
took "full and sole responsibility" for the campaign against drugs.

He did not, however, renounce his call to kill drug suspects, adding 
that many addicts were "no longer viable as human beings on this planet."

Ms. Kazuo, Jaypee's widow, begged Mr. Duterte to have some compassion.

"This is what I can tell the president," she said. "Not all addicts 
can change overnight, but no one has the right to take somebody's 
life. If God gives people chances to change, how can we not?"

Felipe Villamor contributed reporting.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom